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The Bullshit Guide to Bullshit cont\’d

\”Q: But isn\’t one person\’s claptrap another\’s truth?
A: There\’s a belief system about water to which we all sign up: it freezes at 0deg C and boils at 100 deg C. We are powerfully wedded to this but that doesn\’t make it an intellectual black hole. That\’s because these beliefs are genuinely reasonable. Beliefs at the core of intellectual black holes aren\’t reasonable. They merely appear so to those trapped inside.\”
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Those poor deluded people who got swallowed by the Demon – their beliefs are heresy. Ours are right and pure…
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Oh sainted Sir Isaac preserve me. Water (hydrogen dioxide), at a certain temperature, undergoes a very interesting, not completely understood phase transition and becomes solid. If you apply heat to it, eventually it will undergo a better understood transition to a gas. For convenience we call these temperatures 0 deg C – freezing – and 100 deg C – boiling. We could easily call them something else like 32 deg Fahrenheit for freezing or 250 deg Blarkx for boiling.
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That water does this is a fact not a belief system. What numbers we give the temperatures are conventions. We don\’t sign up to it because nobody is giving out forms. If you don\’t get the water hot enough it won\’t boil and that\’s that. We can test it any time we like and get totally unambiguous results.
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What\’s happening here is another ancient rhetorical dodge called Comparing Chalk and Cheese. The chemistry of water is quite well understood (though with some interesting holes). Homeopathy, psychic powers and alien abductions are (to put it mildly) ambiguous, hard to explore and prone to all sorts of self-deluding failures of thought and observation. Calling them both belief-systems is so thundering a category error it\’s got to be deliberate.
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With friends like this, science doesn\’t need enemies.

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